The auction house Christie’s on Tuesday announced the sale of perhaps the most renowned letter written by great physicist and thinker Albert Einstein, known as his “God letter,” for $2,892,500. The letter deals with Einstein’s thoughts on religion, his Jewish identity, and his search for meaning in life. The letter is a definitive statement in the debate about the relationship between religion and science.

The envelope of Einstein’s letter to Eric Gutkind / Courtesy Christie’s
Top part of Einstein’s letter to Eric Gutkind / Courtesy Christie’s

Written on January 3, 1954, this private, remarkably candid letter was addressed to Eric Gutkind, whose book, “Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt,” had been published the year before. Two months after writing to Gutkind, Einstein celebrated his 75th birthday, declaring that he was a “deeply religious non-believer.” He died a year later.

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In his final years, Einstein’s companion was a Czech woman named Johanna Fantova, a curator at Princeton’s Firestone Library whom he had first met in Germany decades earlier. Fantova’s diary from her time with Einstein reflects two sides of the man: one preoccupied with his deteriorating health, the other reflecting on his place in the larger scientific landscape, and still pursuing the unified field theory.

Einstein was unequivocal in his critique of Gutkind’s book in his letter. But he also sought to establish a common ground between them, noting that they still agreed on “the essentials.” He observed diplomatically that he and Gutkind both believed in the importance of a strong moral foundation that rose above self-interest and instead sought to benefit humanity, while rejecting materialism as an end.

“The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weaknesses,” Einstein wrote to Gutkind. “The Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change anything about this.”

The letter also contains Einstein’s notes on his own Jewish identity, questioning the statement that Jews were “chosen people.” He wrote: “The Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples.

“As far as my experience goes, they are in fact no better than other human groups, even if they are protected from the worst excesses by a lack of power.

“Otherwise I cannot perceive anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

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